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Autopsy Shows Eagle Victim of Lead Poisoning

August 10, 1987

ST. IGNACE, Mich. (AP) _ An adult bald eagle that died on Lake Huron’s north shore was poisoned by lead-shot gun pellets that it probably ingested while eating contaminated birds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.

The nearly 5-year-old male eagle, found April 8 by a fur trapper a few miles north of here, suffered severe weight loss and internal lesions before it died, said N.J. Thomas, a wildlife pathologist who performed the autopsy at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis.

Thomas said the autopsy, released earlier this month, showed the lead content in the eagle’s liver was ″severely elevated.″

″This is the main emphasis of the lead-shot ban which will go into effect in Michigan in 1989 prohibiting the use of lead shot while hunting waterfowl,″ said Jim Kessel, biologist at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in the Upper Peninsula.

Use of lead shot in waterfowl hunting will be banned throughout the United States in 1990. Stainless steel pellets can be used instead.

The eagle may have spent the winter in an area that is heavily hunted, which means lead pellets would be present in the water as well as in birds shot by hunters but not retrieved, said Dennis Nietzke, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service here.

″We have been through several decades of having lead pumped into many of these marshes. It is not something that is going to change overnight,″ Nietzke said.

Wildlife experts say that despite protection, bald eagles have not been very successful in reviving their numbers in recent years near the Great Lakes shorelines.

The birds came close to extinction in the late 1960s and early 1970s because of use of the pesticide DDT, which weakens the shells of eggs and causes them to crack prematurely.